Judge rules challenge to business rates liability orders “totally without merit”

The Administrative Court has thrown out a challenge to business rates liability orders as being “totally without merit”, and has imposed an extended civil restraint order to limit future litigation by the complainant.

In Lambert v Forest of Dean District Council [2020] EWHC 2854 Mr Justice Griffiths said litigant Philip Lambert had “wasted the time and resources of the council and of the court”.

The case concerns an appeal by Mr Lambert from the decision of the Gloucestershire Magistrates' Court to refuse his repeat application for setting aside three liability orders for business rates totalling £8,303.10.

This sum was owed to Forest of Dean District Council in relation to three properties in Cinderford.

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Griffiths J said the question before him was whether he could conclude in law that because this application had previously been adjudicated on in 2018 and dismissed, Mr Lambert’s subsequent bankruptcy gave him a right to have his application to set aside liability orders further considered.

He said two other issues raised were essentially different ways of examining the same question.

Forest of Dean objected to Mr Lambert bringing the proceedings on the basis that the right to challenge the liability orders lay with his trustee in bankruptcy, and so he could not make the 2019 application in his personal capacity, or pursue it in this appeal.

Griffiths J said the right to bring a challenge to the liability orders was vested in the trustee in bankruptcy and so “proceedings brought upon it by Mr Lambert are doomed to fail and an abuse of process”.

The judge concluded: “The appeal, therefore, fails on every point. It is, I regret to say, totally without merit. There were no errors of law. Challenges to the facts in the case stated were inadmissible. Mr Lambert did not have standing to bring the proceedings.”

He noted the liability orders were made in 2013-15 and Mr Lambert was made bankrupt as a result of his failure to pay them.

All his challenges to bankruptcy had failed, as a result of which he had been made the subject of an earlier civil restraint order relating to the bankruptcy proceedings.

Griffiths J said Mr Lambert “must bring no more proceedings in relation to the liability orders unless any such proceedings have first been reviewed to see if they have any merit”.

Mark Smulian

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